I love Kung Fu movies. One image that stands out from almost every movie that features martial arts is the idea of being alert and ready to act on a moments notice. Often the movies show the master sitting peacefully in meditation, and then in an instant the master moves into action. I like to think of this as a good visualization for someone who is awake to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; someone who is willing to respond to God’s will with complete freedom. In today’s Gospel, we see that St. Joseph was such a person.
Often, what keeps us from being ready and alert to the Spirit is sin and its effects. Sin has deep roots within the human heart that keep us wrapped up in patterns of illusions and self-preoccupation that choke our ability to respond. Instead of being able to look out towards God and towards neighbor, we instead turn in ourselves in a way that builds obstacles to discovering God’s grace. We are not able to receive because our perceptions and ego have become a subtle prison which prevent our flourishing.
The answer is not found in steps of self-improvement and self-help, but rather in our ability to let the Holy Spirit destroy the chains that keep us locked in. St. Joseph was not great because he had it all figured out. Instead, he had learned the delicate art of self-forgetting in which the believer learns to surrender their limited perception to the infinite wisdom of God. This is the art of true humility, when a person has learned to let go and allow God to act in one’s life.
Such a lesson involves a whole trajectory of growth that takes time and patience. True humility is not a series of superficial expressions or trademark phrases that we project in an attempt to appear holy. The conversion that is necessary is not our activity; rather it is God’s activity. He must act in our lives; he must be the catalyst for our transformation.
That is why the sacraments are so vitally necessary. Through the mediation of the Church and the support of the community, we must constantly be drawn out of ourselves and towards the other. The sacraments are supernatural means which act in accord with natural wisdom. Thus, as humans we need to be drawn out of ourselves in relationship with others, and that is precisely the natural foundation to communicate God’s grace.
Let us dare to be St. Joseph by allowing ourselves to be drawn out of selfishness. Let us learn the art of self-forgetting which leads to true happiness in this life and the life to come!